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Posted at 8:29 AM ET, 02/ 3/2011

Wonkbook: Senate kills part of health reform, saves whole; lobbying stagnates

By Dylan Matthews

Matthews is writing Wonkbook while Ezra is traveling.

Top Stories

The Senate has rejected outright repeal of health-care reform, report David Fahrenthold and N.C. Aizenman: "On Capitol Hill, the battle over the health-care overhaul law has become a kind of scripted political theater. On Wednesday, Republicans in the Senate tried to repeal the law, as expected. Democrats had the votes to beat them, as expected. ... In the end, the repeal was defeated, 51 to 47. All Democrats present voted to keep the law. All Republicans present voted to repeal it. Now, the two parties will settle in for a year of smaller battles, both believing that time is on their side...Republicans in Congress will seek to deny the Obama administration the money it needs to implement parts of the law."

The Senate also voted overwhelmingly to repeal a tax reporting section of health-care reform, reports Jennifer Haberkorn: "The Senate voted Wednesday for the first time to repeal a piece of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, rolling back a new tax reporting requirement that’s been universally panned by business owners. The amendment to repeal the 1099 reporting requirement passed 81-17 with broad bipartisan support. The provision was one that Obama identified in his State of the Union speech as something that Democrats were willing to change. The Senate voted several times last year on repealing the requirement, but all the attempts failed amid partisan bickering over how to pay for it."

Growth in the lobbying industry has stagnated for the first time in a decade, reports T.W. Farnam: "Could the great lobbying gold rush be over? Last year, for the first time in more than a decade, the amount of money spent on lobbying appears to have decreased. The total will not be known for a few days, but there are signs that lobbying money declined. At the very least, the once-booming industry's growth has flatlined. The lobbying industry has expanded over the past decade at a rate that rivals the economy of China, with an average increase in spending of more than 8 percent a year, according to statistics from the Center for Responsive Politics."

Live medley interlude: Spoon plays "The Ghost of You Lingers" and "Got Nuffin" in a phonograph emporium in Paris.

Still to come: Congressional Democrats are readying themselves for a government shutdown; the House GOP is considering Medicare cuts; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing Obama to get tough on guns; the House GOP has revealed its bill to block EPA climate regulations; and cats dressed as bunnies.


Democrats are preparing politically for a government shutdown, reports Carl Hulse: "Democrats do not intend to shut up when it comes to a potential government shutdown. Well aware that a 1995 budget impasse during the early days of Republican control of the House backfired on the new majority, Democrats are moving pre-emptively this time to frame the battle on their terms. There are two reasons: They say that focusing early on the issue could deter Republicans from pushing ahead with demands for spending cuts that Democrats say are unacceptable. At the same time, they are making the case that voters should hold Republicans accountable if things do go off the rails in the coming months."

The U.S. has gained time before it reaches its debt limit.

Obama and Sen. Max Baucus are in a standoff over the Korea trade deal, reports Shailagh Murray: "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has a beef with the South Korean trade deal, and it could hurt President Obama's prospects for winning quick approval of the pact. The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement is a key item on Obama's job-creation agenda, as his chief of staff reiterated Wednesday. 'We want Korea,' William M. Daley told reporters at a breakfast organized by Bloomberg News. But Baucus, whose committee oversees trade issues, is siding with cattle ranchers from his home state who were shut out of the deal. He has pledged opposition until South Korea reconsiders restrictions on the many U.S. beef exports it has barred."

More and more homeowners are representing themselves to save their houses from foreclosure.

Michael Lewis chronicles the Irish banking collapse: "The Irish real-estate bubble was different from the American version in many ways: it wasn’t disguised, for a start; it didn’t require a lot of complicated financial engineering beyond the understanding of mere mortals; it also wasn’t as cynical. There aren’t a lot of Irish financiers or real-estate people who have emerged with a future. In America the banks went down, but the big shots in them still got rich; in Ireland the big shots went down with the banks. Sean Fitzpatrick, a working-class kid turned banker, who built Anglo Irish Bank more or less from scratch, is widely viewed as the chief architect of Ireland’s misfortune: today he is not merely bankrupt but unable to show his face in public."

Reports of record Wall Street pay last year are unfounded, writes Felix Salmon.

Tax reform led to Wall Street's surge in debt, writes Bethany McLean: From 1978 to 2007, the amount of debt held by the financial sector increased twelvefold, from $3 trillion to $36 trillion. Maybe ... the real lesson of the financial crisis is really quite simple: Steeply rising debt isn't healthy for people, and it isn't healthy for banks. The end of the housing market's era of financial sobriety came, by one plausible reckoning, with passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. That much-praised legislation ended the tax deductibility of interest on credit cards and other consumer debt but left in place the mortgage interest deduction."

Adorable animals dressed as other adorable animals interlude: Cats dressed as bunnies.

Health Care

House Republicans are weighing Medicare cuts, reports Janet Hook: "House Republicans are debating whether to propose new limits on the growth of Medicare and other entitlement programs, weighing a gamble that voters are more concerned about trimming the federal deficit than holding on to promised benefits. Some Republicans are warning that the party faces a backlash if it fails to produce a budget that limits entitlement growth, given the anger at federal debt that drove the party's mid-term election gains. 'I believe strongly that we have to act on entitlement reform, and we have to do it sooner rather than later,' said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), a member of the committee that oversees Medicare and Social Security."

The administration is considering requiring insurance to cover birth control.

Democrats are considering alternative approaches to the individual mandate, reports Brian Beutler: "Most Democrats believe, or say they believe, that the courts will uphold the individual insurance mandate as constitutional -- and slice off one prong of the GOP attack on the health care law. But they're also exploring their options. One plan is modeled on an existing incentive built into the Medicare prescription drug benefit: Create an open-enrollment period for people who want to buy health insurance, and assess a penalty on anybody who tries to enter the insurance market after that window closes."

A flashback to the late 1980s, the last time a major health measure was repealed.

Matt Miller reports from 2017, after the Supreme Court strikes down health-care reform: "Health costs kept soaring, employers kept dropping coverage they could no longer afford, and by the 2016 campaign, with 70 million Americans uninsured, something had to give. It was Hillary Clinton's moment. ... It seems hard to recall now, but back in the fight over Obamacare, Republicans only offered plans to insure 3 million of the 50 million who were uninsured back then. Today, most Republicans have signed on to Mrs. Clinton's plan to have government provide every American with basic coverage, with a much more modest role for private insurance as a supplement."

Domestic Policy

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants Obama to get tougher on guns, reports Perry Bacon: "New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is demanding the Obama administration increase enforcement of the nation's gun laws, escalating his longtime push on the issue in the wake of the last month's shooting rampage in Arizona. The mayor's office hired private investigators to buy guns at a gun show in Phoenix, and Bloomberg then played video of the sting at a press conference on Monday in New York. It depicts a man who is sold a gun even after he acknowledges that he would not be able to pass a background check, which would violate federal law."

The Senate GOP is not budging in its opposition to an Obama labor board nominee.

The rate of growth in Social Security spending is dangerous, writes Charles Blahous: "Since 1977, Social Security has employed a formula that links a retiree's initial benefit payment to growth in the national average wage index. Since wages tend to grow faster than prices, this formula pays younger cohorts greater benefits (in inflation-adjusted terms) than those paid to earlier retirees. ... What this means practically is that today's medium-wage retiree receives a benefit just below $18,000 at the normal retirement age. But benefits scheduled for a medium-wage retiree of 2050 would equal nearly $29,000 in today's dollars. What's wrong with this formula? First, it's very expensive."

Everything is a remix interlude: How "Star Wars" was influenced by Westerns, war movies and Akira Kurosawa.


The House GOP has revealed its EPA-blocking legislation, reports Darryl Fears: "Acting on a vow to fight the Obama administration on climate issues, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, unveiled draft legislation Wednesday to try to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. ... In a statement, the congressmen said the legislation's intent is to show that the Clean Air Act was not meant to address climate change, stop the EPA 'from imposing a backdoor cap-and-trade tax' on industries identified as polluters, and protect American jobs."

Federally backed green energy projects are finding private-sector support.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson says Obama will veto legislation blocking climate regulations, reports Ben Geman: "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on Wednesday attacked bills piling up in Congress that would block the agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and reiterated the White House veto threat. Jackson, speaking to reporters, initially declined to address whether President Obama would veto bills that stop climate rules, but later said that past threats still stand. 'What has been stated from the White House is that the president’s advisers would advise him to veto any legislation that passed that would take away the EPA’s greenhouse gas authority,' Jackson told reporters."

Sen. Barbara Boxer will hold hearings on climate science.

Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.

By Dylan Matthews  | February 3, 2011; 8:29 AM ET
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Next: The case for Wyden/Brown gets stronger


I'd like to argue that the stunted growth of lobbying is thanks to Obama/Dems what have you,

but honestly I think what we are seeing is that the SC decision allowing unlimited direct political donations by businesses has simply "cut out the middle man" so to speak.

Posted by: eggnogfool | February 3, 2011 10:00 AM | Report abuse


I was actually going to suggest that with all the lobbying done around healthcare by all sides being so high in the previous year there was bound to be a downturn in it in the following year.

Its kind of like when liberals complained that profits were up at all these corporations in the years after the recession and are claiming profits are up by "X" percentage but aren't giving you the actual number value of it.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 3, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

"Since 1977, Social Security has employed a formula that links a retiree's initial benefit payment to growth in the national average wage index. Since wages tend to grow faster than prices, this formula pays younger cohorts greater benefits (in inflation-adjusted terms) than those paid to earlier retirees."

And younger cohorts, on account of those rising wages (and rising FICA contribution percentags since the program's inception) have been paying far more dollars into the system.

Why should I want to be part of a system in which my additional contributions didn't directly translate into more retirement income?

Posted by: justin84 | February 3, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

@justin84 - You're right. Young people need to get involved and secure YOUR future. Sadly, my generation and my parents' went along with the "morning in America" bull and just used it all up. We spent like mad and put it on your credit card. We shoveled the middle class wealth into our rich buddies' pockets and let corporations run the government for their short term gain. Before we go, though, we'll drill all the oil, use up all the minerals, deplete the remaining fish from the sea, pollute everything and heap on more debt. You're welcome.

Posted by: GreenDreams | February 3, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

GreenDreams and justin84...What ever you do please don't take any credit for ruining the future for your grandchildren.

Posted by: jhnjdy | February 5, 2011 11:51 PM | Report abuse

GreenDreams and justin84...What ever you do please don't take any credit for ruining the future for your grandchildren.

Posted by: jhnjdy | February 5, 2011 11:52 PM | Report abuse

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